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Become a Crime-Fighting Superhero in Your Spare Time

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Chris Goodroe doesn’t do Facebook, and he doesn’t do Twitter. Online socializing isn’t his thing. But after watching his neighbors use the internet to bust a pair of burglars earlier this year, the Oakland attorney decided to make an exception for Nextdoor, a neighborhood social network that is increasingly being used to fight crime.

In the first wave of online social crime-fighting, police used networks like Facebook and Twitter to ask for help identifying images of suspects and to broadcast messages over a large area like an entire city. Now a new, more targeted set of networks like Nextdoor are allowing residents to better police themselves and police to reach residents more efficiently. “What we saw happening very early on with Nextdoor is people were coming to us saying, ‘We’d like to be able to include our local police officer in our neighborhood,’” says co-founder Sarah Leary, who estimates about 20 percent of Nextdoor content is related to crime and safety.

The scam run by the burglars in Goodroe’s neighborhood worked like this: Two men carrying magazines knock on a door. If a homeowner answers, he gets a pitch for magazine subscriptions from one guy while the other scopes his valuables. If no one answers, the burglars let themselves in.

Tools like Nextdoor and Nixle, a text and e-mail alert system used by police, are not just altering the landscape of social networking. They’re also changing the ways cities across the U.S. ensure safety — helping residents look out for one another, helping cops make highly targeted disclosures and inquiries, and turning the tables on criminals who have long availed themselves of sophisticated communications systems and carefully plotted strategies. The change is being driven less by cutting-edge technology than by new demands for police transparency, by budget cuts, and by calls for greater efficiency and efficacy on the part of law enforcement.

If crime-fighting social networks continue to attract users and spread geographically, they could help police departments reduce crime rates while forging deeper and more meaningful relationships with the communities they patrol.

Nixle, which helps more than 5,000 police and public safety agencies send text messages based on ZIP code, is increasingly being used in a collaborative manner, with police seeking tips on homicides or, in one recent case, asking residents to help find an older man with dementia who commandeered an automobile and disappeared during extreme cold weather. Nixle even built special technology to optionally anonymize incoming texts before forwarding them to local cops. “You’re engaging and leveraging the entire population to catch bad guys,” says CEO Eric Liu.

More on: Become a Crime-Fighting Superhero in Your Spare Time | Wired Business | Wired.com

I guess, we certainly need one like this.
 
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